What a Stamp Says About Future Fertility Rates in the World’s Most Populous Countries


Aug 9, 2018


In 2015, the Chinese government abandoned its one-child policy; after 35 years, couples were finally allowed to have two children — encouraged, even; a year later, China’s lunar New Year stamp depicted a monkey with two babies, a subtle promotion of the country’s new fertility agenda.

Now, the country is signalling a desire for even larger families, reports The Indian Express. On 7 August, the state-owned postal service, China Post, unveiled the Year of the Pig stamp —  showing a family of pigs with three piglets. China commentators say the government is using the imagery to herald plans to abandon birth restrictions, on the eve of the country’s 40th anniversary of reform and economic liberalization.

But the move doesn’t necessarily herald increased personal freedom. China is in dire need of more young people. The country’s population stands at 1.39 billion. In the 80s and 90s, China’s ratio of working-age citizens to its elderly was 1 to 8.3. Today, however, it is 1 to 15.9, meaning most of its 1.390 billion are past productive age, raising an economic alarm.

An ageing population, combined with low fertility rates, leads to a decline in the total population and a shrunken labor force. Birth restriction policies have burdened the government, which has had to run pension schemes and health care systems for the aged. But those who grew up under the one-child policy seem to be suffering the most — they have to look after their two parents and four grandparents alone and on a single salary.

China’s not alone. Fertility rates have dropped below replacement levels in 83 countries, representing about half of the world’s population, and the trend is likely to continue, writes Joseph Chamie, a former director of the United Nations Population Division, for YaleGlobal Online. By 2050, more than 130 countries, or about two-thirds of the world’s population, will suffer the same fate.

Including India. India’s fertility rates have been steadily declining, though in a far less steep drop than China’s one-child policy imposed. In fact, they remain higher than replacement rate, at 2.2, and by 2025, India is expected to surpass China in becoming the world’s most populous country.

Which gives India a unique opportunity.

“India has three decades before it hits the point where the working-age population starts to decline and this is the window of opportunity for Asia, some[thing] only a few other Asian countries have,” Ranil Salgado, the International Monetary Fund’s mission chief for India, told the Times of India recently.

But there is a caveat; if the economy doesn’t maintain double digit growth during that time, “there is a risk that India could grow old before it becomes rich,” he continued.


Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.


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